Created in 2004, the project, which builds music education programs all over the world, is based on the belief that music has the unique ability to transcend social and geographic barriers.
And it does just that. "One Love" and "Stand by Me" were a few of the first songs Playing for Change's creators, Mark Johnson and Enzo Buono, put together. Using a portable recording studio, they recorded musicians all over the world performing different interpretations of the same songs. Then they put them together to create one song with many voices. The resulting music is a blend of musical cultures and styles that is nothing short of inspirational.
To date, the organization has created 38 songs, which can all be watched on www.playingforchange.com. "Stand by Me" has over 24 million hits on YouTube and turned the small organization into a global movement for peace and understanding.
"The movement started with 'Stand by Me' and that journey around the world," said Mark Johnson, the Grammy award-winning producer and creator of Playing for Change. "Throughout that process we learned that we can use music to connect the planet – in travelling we get invited into people's homes and we become close with the community. In order to give back to them, we created the Playing for Change Foundation, which builds music schools around the world and then connects them together so that kids in a school in Africa can play music with kids in the United States."
Johnson, who has travelled to 12 countries this year, just recorded an orchestra of orphans in Medillin, Colombia, ostensibly one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
"The great thing about Playing for Change is that it never ends," said Johnson. "There are always more countries to go to, more songs to make and more schools to build."
Playing for Change will release its next CD and DVD in May with ten new songs, including its most recent, John Lennon's Imagine. This song is part of the foundation's new initiative called Power to the People, a collaboration with Yoko Ono. The campaign will advance John Lennon's vision of peace by raising awareness and funds to develop and sustain the Playing for Change Foundation's music education programs in schools around the globe.
The Internet's Role in Music
"The great thing about the Internet is that it allows us to explore music of different cultures without going to, let's say, Zimbabwe or Thailand," said Nekesa Moody, music editor for The Associated Press. "Some of that music may be hard to find in record stores, but you can just do a Google search and find it. In the past you might have found one track, but there's a wealth of stuff that's on the Internet now. I think that's a great boon for music and cross-cultural exploration."
As technology has advanced in recent years, so has the virtual recording studio. Indaba Music, a Web-based recording application, enables musicians to collaborate on songs online without ever leaving their basements, thus taking away the need for band members to live in the same place. The site has a social networking element as well, allowing musicians to create a profile and connect with other musicians.
The rise and reign of the Internet has also brought musicians together. In 2008, YouTube partnered with the London Symphony Orchestra to launch the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, the first-ever online collaborative orchestra. Musicians from all around the world were invited to audition for the orchestra by videotaping themselves playing and posting their audition tapes on YouTube. Winners were then flown to New York City in April 2009 to perform at Carnegie Hall under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas, the director of the San Francisco Symphony. Ninety musicians from 30 different countries performed in the concert.
By the day of the concert, 15 million viewers had watched the audition tapes on YouTube. The YouTube Symphony Orchestra is now choosing members for its second symphony, which will perform at the Sydney Opera House this upcoming March.